A Long Awaited Victory for Wild Salmon and the People of Bristol Bay
Because people cared enough to fight for this sacred place for three decades, we have a reason to believe in hope for wild salmon, our survival as a species, the health of our planet and the possibility of working together to make seemingly impossible things happen.
The Yupik, Denaina, Aleutiq and Athabascan people of Southwest Alaska led the grinding effort to protect the irreplaceable land, waters and salmon of Bristol Bay over these last 30 years. An entire generation of people have fought with their blood, sweat and tears every day - for decades - to retain the sanctity of their way of life; culture; spiritual identity and traditions - leading the way for the rest of us to follow.
Joining the tribes are the dozens of NGOs and nonprofits, commercial fishermen, sportsmen and women, businesses and chefs - and the thousands of people working behind the scenes, writing letters, making phone calls, crying out for this sacred place to remain intact for future generations. All told, over four million people made their voices heard when it was time to tell the EPA to save what they love. If you are reading this, you may be one of them.
I first came to Bristol Bay in 1991 to work a summer job in a salmon processing plant. I ended up falling in love. In love with Alaska, in love with her people, in love with the hard work and wilderness and wild salmon still teeming in her vast and wild rivers. All told I spent three summers in Bristol Bay working with salmon. That led to a decade guiding people in Southeast Alaska’s wilderness in the pursuit of them. In a convergence with my other passion, storytelling, my heart was called to make two documentary films, The Breach and The Wild about Bristol Bay’s wild salmon and this fight for them. I’m now filming the third and final film, The Turn, to complete a trilogy. And I’ve spent the last 4 years building a company, Eva’s Wild to sell Bristol Bay’s wild salmon to Americans and give back with every purchase to the next generation of Bristol Bay’s indigenous leadership. 32 years of my life have been in orbit around Bristol Bay and its wild salmon. Here’s to the rest of it being so as well.
Such is the longing I have for this place and these fish. And I am one tiny example of this. Ask any commercial fisherman, or lodge owner or conservationist or person who has been blessed enough, as I was, to stumble into this vast and achingly beautiful place.
So what does this mean exactly? EPA’s decision today does two things. First, it prohibits the use of nearly 25 square miles at the headwaters of Bristol Bay as disposal sites for dredged and fill material associated with building and operating the Pebble Mine. Second, it restricts the size of future mining proposals at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, which encompasses nearly all of the sub-watersheds of the North Fork Koktuli River, South Fork Koktuli River, and Upper Talarik Creek. In total, the area is nearly 310 square miles. In essence, it renders Pebble’s mine, in its 2020 proposed form, inoperable.
Remembering honored elders who have gone on before us like the late Bobby Andrew and Marie Paul – it is with deep gratitude I want to personally thank Bristol Bay’s indigenous people for their leadership and humbling example of what Stewardship looks like.
I also want to name of few of the dogged examples of perseverance and leadership, like United Tribes of Bristol Bay; Salmon State; Bristol Bay’s commercial fishermen; Trout Unlimited; Wild Salmon Center and all of the conservation groups who worked tirelessly on this daunting effort. I want to thank the Biden Administration for making good on their promise and the U.S. EPA under the guidance of Administrator Regan for the integrity of their process. Thanks too to all members of Congress who continued to believe in and fight for what is right – especially, from my own state of Washington, Senator Cantwell for her unwavering support of the people, land and waters of Bristol Bay.
We should celebrate today. Hell, we should celebrate all week and make this a national holiday. How rare to find a victory of this magnitude in such a divided time as this. This win for Bristol Bay should be the benchmark for what success looks like when we put our differences aside and work for something bigger than ourselves.
And in the eddy of this river of celebration, I need to remind myself and you, that we can’t ever let our guard down. The $500 billion dollars of mineral deposits in Bristol Bay’s headwaters aren’t going anywhere. And you can rest assured there are men, right now, scheming to get at it, somehow, some way. We must be ever-vigilant.
We’ll do our part in telling this ongoing story in The Turn and in the work at Eva’s Wild. I am grateful beyond measure for your voice in this victory for the world’s most robust salmon stronghold. A system that is feeding the world half its supply of totally regenerative, always wild sockeye salmon - and sequestering vast quantities of carbon in a time it’s desperately needed for the survival of our planet.
Long Live Wild Salmon &
Long Live Bristol Bay…
~Mark Titus, Founder, Eva’s Wild